Serenity - LionheartIn recent times, I’ve gained a reputation for not liking power metal.1 This is simply inaccurate. It’s not that I don’t like power metal as a genre, it’s more that I have rather specific tastes. Serenity is an Austrian symphonic power metal band that has met my standards with 2016’s Codex Atlanticus. That record was solid, yes, but I was surprised by the band’s newest record landing in my inbox a year after its release. More concerning than surprising, however, is that the record is a concept album about Richard the Lion-Hearted. A solid record a year later is an ask for most bands, but do-able. A solid concept album in the same time is simply a reach. So, is Serenity‘s Lionheart a good album? And, more importantly, is it a good concept album?

In the review of Sabaton‘s Carolus Rex, the reviewer at Sweden’s largest newspaper opened the review with the statement: “[o]ne always takes a stand when choosing the history one writes” [translated freely].2 Serenity chose to write about Richard I, who one historian described as “a bad son, a bad husband, and a bad king, but a gallant and splendid soldier.” Also known as Richard the Lion-Hearted, he is famous for leading the Third Crusade between 1191-1193. Googling Richard I for three minutes will show that he, like all regents and generals, was a complicated man who did complicated things for complicated reasons. But such a nuanced picture of the character is notable in its absence. Missing, for example, is a song about the massacre at Ayyadieh, where Richard I lion-heartedly executed 2,700 people—some accounts saying it was closer to 3,000, including women and children—because Saladin would not pay a ransom. Instead, Lionheart relies heavily on messages of unity and a lionization (see what I did there?) of Richard I. While “Massacre at Ayyadieh (I Executed 2,700 People Because Saladin Would Not Pay Me a Ransom)” makes a less inspiring song than “United” or “Stand and Fight,” it also makes a crucial point: who would write an uncritical concept album about The Crusades in 2017?

Serenity 2017

Of course, such an oversight may simply be a consequence of genre tropes that define Serenity‘s musical goal. Unlike Sabaton‘s Carolus Rex,3 the band seems patently uninterested in writing about the case with anything resembling historical accuracy. Instead, Lionheart is written with an eye to the impact of uplifting choruses, epic orchestrations, and melodrama. With songs like “Eternal Victory,” “United,” and “Stand and Fight,” the band is definitely resting on the trend of positivity bias found in Eurovision entries and, apparently, power metal. It lacks credibility that Richard I dragging the 4th sons of wealthy families to the Middle East to fight for the “Holy Land” actually lit “passion in the hearts” [“Eternal Victory”] of crusaders.4 And it is baldly inaccurate to portray anyone as dying for their “country” in 1191.5 Serenity is either blissfully unaware or just such positive thinkers that inconvenient details like “truth” or “the understanding of history as a question of perspective” undermine the point of making power metal this gargantuan to begin with!

And if any fans or representatives for the band or label even made it this far, they’ll be pleased to hear that Lionheart doesn’t disappoint musically. Throughout, Serenity demonstrates their mastery of composing catchy, entertaining and addictive songs. The orchestras are well-balanced bombast, which girds otherwise simple, riff-heavy songs. But the center of attention—front and center in the mix, anyway—is Georg Neuheuser. His voice is powerful, though surprisingly similar to Tony Kakko on tracks like “Stand and Fight,” and he charges through these songs with the reckless abandon of his ilk. While Neuheuser’s tone is not reedy like Gloryhammer‘s Thomas Winkler, his enthusiasm and diction are remarkably similar. These make for an unforgettable delivery. His voice is best used when it’s a tool for carrying the band’s anthemic choruses (like “Empire” or “Eternal Victory”), but he also does a moody duet with Katja Moslehner on “Heaven,” and threatens emotional expressiveness on “My Fantasy” and “The Final Crusade.”

Serenity - 2017

Neuheuser’s performance stands out because the rest of Serenity is solid, workmanlike, and subordinated to the band’s style. Christian Hermsdörfer’s guitars are solid, with good riffing and solos, while the rhythm section—bassist Fabio D’Amore and drummer Andreas Schipflinger—holds down the low-end admirably. Like other orchestral metal bands, individual performances don’t stand out, and when packaged in Jan Vacik’s production, it pretty much sounds precisely how one would expect; extremely compact and loud, with edited drums and barely audible bass. That said, Vacik’s work on balancing the band against the orchestrations is top-notch. The interplay of different elements is excellent, and particularly on tracks like “The Fortress (of Blood and Sand)” where a great groove meets the melodic orchestrations, Vacik’s polished mix shines.

In totality, Lionheart is a good record, but a bad concept record. I love some, and like almost all, of these songs—the aforementioned “The Fortress (of Blood and Sand)” being my personal highlight, featuring a Double Harmonic scale and Saladin’s equally un-problematized perspective—and when the band hits their groove they are at their very best. If you, like the band, give no shits about historical accuracy or questions of the academic pursuit of the study of history, then there’s not much here to get frustrated with. If, on the other hand, you’re a stickler for details and find this album’s contents slightly disturbing, don’t you worry your pedantic little head about it: after hearing a few of these choruses, you’ll forget about your complaints and start to bang your head. Lionheart is, first and foremost, a good power metal record.


Rating: Good!
DR: Unknown | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: serenity-band.com | facebook.com/serenityaustria
Release Date: October 27th, 2017

Show 5 footnotes

  1. See the comments about me declaring Lör Record o’ the Month.
  2. It should be noted that Carl XII is associated with extreme right-wing movements in Sweden, which means that writing an entire album about the guy is basically like tattooing “nativist” across your forehead. I think it was handled OK in the Swedish version due to the sensitive nature of the topic, but the author of the Swedish review certainly had a different impression.
  3. Note, by this I mean the Swedish version, not the apologetic pap the band passed off as ‘lyrics’ in the English version.
  4. Rather, the Church’s (1) threat to excommunicate anyone who attacked a person engaged in a Crusade, and (2) promise of instant absolution of sins and debt relief during the period crusading, probably had a lot more to do with Crusader’s inspiration than Richard I.
  5. As it’s clear that people were much more beholden to the Church than to the ‘proto-nation’ from the time, the nation being a relatively modern phenomenon.
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  • Goldicot

    How do bands like this get that sort of budget for a music video? I can’t afford gumballs most days.

    • Maybe if you weren’t blowing all of your money on gumballs, you could afford a music video now and then.

  • Eldritch Elitist

    Footnovellas!

  • Planex

    I thought you didn’t review streams.

  • Piet

    Funny to see this review after 2 days of listening Codex Atlanticus and War of Ages back to front and being 5 songs into my first spin of Lionheart. It’s quite decent so far but not yet reaching the levels of their previous two albums. Perhaps it requires a few spins though.

    As for the historical accuracy, I’ve never cared for the lyrics in pretty much any power metal song ever :D

    • I agree regarding power metal lyrics, with only the only exception of Gloryhammer. Space dwarves man.

      • Tofu muncher

        Heavy Metal Hamster is deep.

      • Taeviri

        no other lyrics could possibly beat undead unicorns and Zargothrax

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    I think that the review barely talks about the music and instead wanders off into irrelevant territory, the embedded song sounds generic :(

    • GardensTale

      Well, it’s not irrelevant if you’re a pedantic history nerd.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    I love it!
    Reminds me of before Sonata Arctica went all weird.
    Even sounds like Kakko.
    Not Kaka……Kakko.

  • Thatguy

    The guys all have looks on their faces that to varying degrees suggest their thought -‘should I really be doing this?’

    No, you shouldn’t.

    • Nag Dammit

      Guy at front “I’m the super cool barbarian with a beanie!”. Guy on left: “I’m the dwarf”. Guy at back “I’m the magician”. Guy on right “Oh, not fair! Why does he get to be the barbarian?”.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      It’s the “can’t fart with confidence ” look.

  • Nola Trash Talk

    If it’s power metal about history and it’s not Sabaton or Civil War, I’m not interested.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Errr.
    Worst voice over of the year candidate on this sucker…..

  • Ironwood_Druid

    Yeahhhh. I like your point: “who would write an uncritical concept album about The Crusades in 2017?” This is especially true considering the continued cultural relevance of the atrocities on both sides of that era and the now nearly two decades of sustained war in the Middle East. I find this a disturbing application of childish platitudes about romanticized past heroics, and I do not usually feel that way.

  • h0ttentot

    Spitting fire? Geez…

  • Akira Watts

    It’s not often that one gets two paragraphs of historical critique in the middle of a power metal review. Much appreciated, that.

  • Nukenado

    Fuming Historical Guy?

  • This review demonstrates what can happen when a bunch of geeky metal fans with advanced degrees start a review blog.

    • Nukenado

      Any Steely talks law reviews coming up?

      • Thais Munk

        “How to get really fucked over by your record company- a look into metallic law with special respect to Magic Circle Music, by Steel Druhm”.

        • I don’t want Mr. DeMaio showing up at my door with his loincloth in a bunch.

      • I object!

        • Nukenado

          Overruled…?

          • Nolo contendere.

          • Nukenado

            Okay, Judge Steely has more say than me…
            But I’d always thought you’d be a “GUILTY OR GTFO” type of judge.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    They really need to come up with a reality show…like the Hunger Games, where they drop 13 bands (ie: Serenity, Dragonforce, Force Majeure, Dragonhammer, Twilight Force, Dragonheart, Blood Bound, Dragonland, Power Quest, Dreamtale, Gloryhammer, Orden Ogan and Hammerfall ) into a bio-dome based on Middle Earth.
    They must defeat each other using only their instruments as weapons and the temperature is kept at a toasty 105 F (let’s see how long they last in those pvc and snake skin tights, what’s the matter Blood Bound? Make up running?!)

    Eric Adams gets to be the Game Master.
    Christopher Lee narrates for live TV.
    Winner gets opening slot on The Pumpkins Reunited world tour and get to record a double concept based on the hit show Supernatural.
    Losers must leave the hall and rub oil on Michael Kiske’s bald head before disappearing into obscurity.

    Just something I’ve always thought about ………

    • Nag Dammit

      Add Unleash the Archers to the roster and colour me convinced.

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Deal.
        Of course…..being Canadian they would kick ass.

        • Nukenado

          Dragonforce and Gloryhammer would basically out-cheese every one of them.

          • HeavyMetalHamster

            It would get pretty messy.

          • Nukenado

            Gloryhammer is the Cheez Whiz of power metal bands. It’s not real cheese, but somehow feels more cheesy than real cheese.

            DragonForce? The equivalent of slamming your face into shredded jack cheddar.

          • HeavyMetalHamster

            Thank you sir may I have another!

          • Nukenado

            Have some fine Galneryus Swiss!

      • The Unicorn

        Clear victor here. There will be no contest once the arrows are loosed.

    • GrandmasterB

      Would Christopher Lee be narrating from beyond the grave?

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        *spoiler alert*

    • Tofu muncher

      Of the 13 contestants the winner is Tales of Gaia.

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Damn….forgot about them.
        Ok….Tales of Gaia would volunteer to take the spot of Serenity in the games and ride their sea monster to certain victory.

    • Unwanted Guest

      You are overdosing metalijuana.

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Probably.
        It’s legal here in Canada.

    • SuzyC

      You can’t leave out Fairyland.

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        CURSES!
        Well….there’s always the sequel.

    • HeavyMetalHamster
    • HeavyMetalHamster
    • Triple album you mean? Right?

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        They just keep coming back to life eh?
        Those Winchesters. ……..

    • DethByDesign

      And then Sabaton rolls in and destroys them all with tanks and mortar fire.

      • Taeviri

        THEN THE WINGED HUSSARS ARRIVED would get a whole new meaning

  • El_Cuervo

    I really really like War of Ages. How does this compare?

    • Goldicot

      ALL CONSUMING FIRE, BURNNNNN

      • El_Cuervo

        SHALL THIS VICTORY LIGHTEN THEIR MEMORY

      • Unwanted Guest

        You mistook the Serenity’s album War of Ages for Christian metalcore warriors War of Ages. However, I like bo…ALL! CONSUMING FIRE! BURNNNNN!

    • That was a great album.

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        Wings Of Madness!!!

    • tim.o

      I think War of Ages is better than this (what I’ve heard so far) and their last one. The two before War of Ages are worth checking out.

  • savafreak

    Sorry, but I cannot find anything “positive” about holy wars, or romanticizing a mad man who took it upon himself to hold the flag of religion in the name of God to spread “the word of God” across the land, and killing men, women and children in the process, thinking it is the “right” thing to do! Sounds familiar eh?!

    • Aguy

      I assume from your tone that you are referring to contemptible figures from modern politics, e.g. Jeremy Corbyn. (It was bad enough that he personally went to the front against the Russo-Hungarians so that he could literally wade through the blood of their dead, but he went too far when he uploaded a video of himself in a nursery tearing R-H babies’ heads off with his monstrous jaws, titled “For The Eternal Glory Of Albion”, to his Facebook page.)

  • Mollusc

    Power metal bands release their genocidal urges through inflicting epic pop choruses on people.

    • Nukenado

      Different bands, different strokes.
      I know that DragonForce wanks faster than you can say “keytar” to release their genocidal urges.

      • Mollusc

        Not as a particular fan, but I’m guessing the keytar use is a little tongue in cheek. Unsure if this lot are a bit too right wing or meatheads. Maybe both.

        • Nukenado

          I don’t get how a keytar relates to politics, but anyone who uses a keytar has to be half joking.

          • Mollusc

            Exactly.

          • Nukenado

            Ughhh… ‘kay?

  • PotaD0s

    ‘In recent times, I’ve gained a reputation for not liking power metal’.
    There is no reason to be upset by this reputation my Angry Metal Friend. We accept our misguided power metal brethren as they have no place else to go, but our hospitality has a little touch of pity in it too. In the high school lunch room of heavy metal, they’re not at the table of the kid trying to drink milk from a straw jammed up his nostril but they are right next to it.

    That said, Lör can come sit with us. They’re cool.

    • GardensTale

      The kid with the straw is at the ‘female fronted symphonic metal’ table.

      • Aguy

        Where are the female fronts? Surely not sitting at that table. Most of them are recruited mainly for their looks, and have options.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I much prefer the beards seen in the Wormwood band photo from today (3/5) to the beards seen here (2.5/5). However, none can hold a candle to the beard seen in the Vuur band photo (4.5/5).

  • Danny

    This is one of those bands who have really snuck up on me, they don’t do anything special but they make goddamn great power metal. War of Ages is particularly righteous. I saw them on 70k and was stunned to realize they were actually better live then the mighty Kamelot. I’m glad to hear the music here is as good as ever.

    Not sure what’s up with the concept though. Their lead singer is a history professor at a university, he really should know better. That said, their lyrics were never their strongest point.

    • The Metal Pigeon

      Yeah I wondered about Georg’s background as a history professor as well, it seems like there should’ve been a little more thought put behind the conceptual side of a release like this but then again, its been less than two years since they released their last one —- probably not a lot of time to iron those details out. Ultimately I think its the album’s biggest drawback.

      • Danny

        The time frame is probably part of it, but its not like the lyrics to Codex or earlier records were much more insightful; there’s just less controversy to covering Da Vinci than Richard Lionheart. I get the sense their lyrics are written first and foremost to fit the melodies and it pays off, as the songs flow really nicely, but it certainly doesn’t read like it was written by a PhD.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    At least Gloryhammer gets it right with their thoughtful and deeply felt reflections on such diverse topics as Unicorn tears, Astraal Dwarves, and Zargothrax.

    • GardensTale

      Can’t get the details wrong if nothing makes sense in the first place.

  • Here’s Johnny

    I don’t get why an Austrian band would tackle Richard the Lionheart, good record all same. Neuheuser is probably too good for them though, for sure.

  • Levly

    I really like this band (War of Ages is one of my favorite PM records of these last few years) but I really cringed when I saw the concept and the uncritical lyrics so thank you so much AMG for spending a good chunk of the review on that aspect. Very satisfying to read :). As you say, the music is great fun but better not listen too closely to the “story”.

  • Unknown DR for a stream review, this is why we’re number four.

    • We’re filing papers demanding a recount.

      • Rock not thine boat, for if we demand a recount, that super official panel of judges will realize they mistakenly listed the most metal site in the universe as 6!

  • Unwanted Guest

    I like the heavy synths and the slowdown in chorus part in the embed track! They have good ideas for making rather average power metal epic effectively.

    I was thinking of buying VHALDEMAR’s Against All Kings or REVENGE’s Spitting Fire as a power metal supplement of November. But I got the new contender…mmm…

  • Zadion

    Holy fuck, you are an incredible reviewer, and its moments like these I’m saddened AMG himself rarely contributes to his titular website in 2k17. I’m pretty sure there is no other metal review blog on the internet where I can get such a passive aggressive history lesson in a review about the latest album from a band I like.

    “If you, like the band, give no shits about historical accuracy or questions of the academic pursuit of the study of history, then there’s not much here to get frustrated with. If, on the other hand, you’re a stickler for details and find this album’s contents slightly disturbing, don’t you worry your pedantic little head about it: after hearing a few of these choruses, you’ll forget about your complaints and start to bang your head.”

    This is the greatest paragraph ever penned!

  • WhamBamSam

    I like how the question “who would write an uncritical concept album about The Crusades in 2017?” is immediately followed by a band photo that screams “these guys!”

  • FerrusWheel

    I did a Crusades module in my third year of uni. Didn’t expect to read along to an AMG review nodding along to his historical points.

  • Anarchist

    War of Ages is low key one of my favourite albums. I didn’t like Codex Atlanticus nearly as much. We’ll see how this one goes.

  • madhare

    History schmitzory. Give it a couple of hundred years and power metal bands will be writing epic glorifying anthems about Hitler, Stalin, Vietnam, waterboarding, ISIS and so on. It’s all good as long as the money’s rolling in and the teen boys and pumping their fists, right?

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Wow…not often does a power metal band impress me enough to go buy their entire back catalog, but these guys write some excellent tunes.
    Sure they don’t break any new ground stylistically but damn is it catchy!

  • Alex

    Saw these guys on 70k last year and carried the lead singer as he crowd surfed. It was pretty cool

  • El Lado Oscuro

    Once again the record is good, but once again sound too much like Sonata Arctica… lack originality, but provides a good time.

    • Sebastian Bugge

      It is so much better than current Sonata though. Current Sonata is so god damn poppy, while serenity at least keeps the heavyness along with the big choruses and melodies.

  • gdffgdfgd

    If anyone was wondering about the DR, it’s DR5 but only because of the interlude and Intro. All other track are DR3-4, so it’s almost as loud as Death & Legacy (which was comparable to Fleshgod Apocalypse) and about the same loudness as War Of Ages.
    Sounds pretty damn good considering the brickwalling.

    Also, I just listened to this album and found it to be not quite as good as some of their others. Seemed to lack inspiration and those harsh vocals in the last track should not be there.

    This band has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time (especially Death & Legacy) so maybe this will grow on me.

    • Danny

      Hopefully the vinyl I ordered is a little better, but my hopes are tempered.

  • Patrick Bitencourt

    Excelent album with awesome lyrics. Back to Christ West!

  • The Metal Pigeon

    Loved this review, I really miss reading from AMG himself and this hearkens to why. You pretty much wrote the definitive review on this and really made me take a critical eye to the lyrics myself (not ever Georg’s strongest point, although he occasionally nails a phrase or two). To a history layman like myself, the idea of a Richard the Lionheart concept album isn’t all that intriguing the way it was with Leonardo DaVinci and Codex Atlanticus last year (which is increasingly sounding even better in relation to this one). What’s puzzling is why Georg, a history professor for his day job, would want to release an album whose conceptual angle seems incomplete, or you pointed out, glaringly slanted towards overt positivism.

    Positivity (why is spell check underlining that word?) is something that’s taken for granted in power metal, abused, but also discounted as well. I think its a valuable aspect to the subgenre’s identity, but at times its leaned on too heavily and gets worn thin. Serenity’s music is generally about uplift, bombast, romance, and melodrama —- and maybe Georg, as the principal songwriter these days now that Thomas Buchberger is gone —- needs a writing partner to help him move the band in more varied and if needs be, darker, musical directions.